I can remember it hanging over the drinking fountain in my third-grade classroom.
It was a poster that read, "Engage brain before putting mouth into gear." This notice, placed by Mrs. Godfrey, grabbed my attention many times as my classmates and I lined up for a quick drink after recess.
For example, in the past when my lovely wife, Brenda, has shared a tricky circumstance or difficult situation, I have many times gone into solution mode -- "You should do this...." Unfortunately, this approach has a history of creating more problems for me! I am just beginning to learn that the real answer is listening in order to understand.
Maybe you are like me, and words flow very easily. Maybe you have rendered a quick "no" without much contemplation when your kids ask for something. Perhaps you have found yourself in a word wrestling match because you disputed a political view or defended your favorite computer brand. It could be that you were insulted at work and ran a blue streak at the offender. Perhaps you are the type that is tempted to embellish or exaggerate in the course of your conversations.
Does everything need an immediate response? Do we need to verbally react to everything that comes our way?
The Lord speaks to this dilemma in Proverbs 15:28, saying, "The heart of the righteous weighs its answer, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil." Notice the contrast of types of mouths in this instruction. God is revealing to us that we should not be quick to answer, but "wait for the answer."
A mouth that gushes is like a fire hydrant that is flowing onto the street and everything is rapidly inundated. It is the "wicked" that gush. The wicked are the ones in this context that do not value doing what is right. When we gush words, there is a great possibility that we are going to cause damage. Proverbs 10:19 presents, "Where words are many sin is not absent." If you are a "gusher," you might exaggerate, brag, escalate, say something hurtful, gossip or lie. Proverbs 18:6-7 says it plainly, "A fool's lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool's mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul." Gushers find continual strife in their lives and it can ultimately be their downfall. The gusher's mouth invites a beating!
But "the heart of the righteous weighs its answer." The righteous in this sense is the one who desires to do what is right. The idea of weighing an answer is a judicious one; the best, most virtuous and helpful decision is chosen. Arriving at a "judgment" for what to say can involve seeking counsel from others and always demands well thought-out timing. Proverbs 15:22-23 says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed. A man finds joy in giving an apt reply and how good is a timely word!"
How can you put the wisdom of "waiting for the answer" into your life? Here are three steps to practice: think, plan and then speak.
First of all, think; direct your mind about a matter before formulating an answer. Is this helpful or hurtful talk? Am I emotionally in control to share?
Then plan. This basically means to have foresight about what may happen in the conversation. It's like chess; always anticipate moves two or three turns in advance. "When I say this, what are they going to say and how am I going to react?"
Once you think and plan, then it is time to speak the truth in all gentleness and love.
What would happen if we all took one small step toward weighing answers carefully? It has the potential to change our lives dramatically. Imagine all the strife we would eliminate and the downfalls we would avoid. That is an answer worth waiting for!
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, which meets 9:30 a.m. Sundays at the Petoskey Cinema and 11 a.m. Sundays at Boyne City elementary. For more information, visit www.genesiswired.com.